Documenting the American South


Going to the Show

Mapping Moviegoing in North Carolina

"Movies 'Over the Waves' at Lumina Theatre, Wrightsville Beach, Wilmington, N.C., 1931" in Durwood Barbour Collection of North Carolina Postcards (P077), North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC-Chapel Hill.

Going to the Show documents and illuminates the experience of movies and moviegoing in North Carolina from the introduction of projected motion pictures (1896) to the end of the silent film era (circa 1930).

Through its innovative use of more than 750 Sanborn® Fire Insurance maps of forty-five towns and cities between 1896 and 1922, the project situates early moviegoing within the experience of urban life in the state's big cities and small towns. It highlights the ways that race conditioned the experience of moviegoing for all North Carolinians- white, African American, and American Indian. Its collection inventories every known N.C. African American movie theater in operation between 1908 and 1963.

Supporting its documentation of more than 1300 movie venues across 200 communities is a searchable archive of thousands of contemporaneous artifacts: newspaper ads and articles, photographs, postcards, city directories, and 150 original architectural drawings.

Special features of Going to the Show include an in-depth case study of moviegoing in Wilmington, North Carolina, that:

  1. recovers the experience of attending one of the state's earliest movie theaters in 1906-07
  2. reveals the economics of a store-front theater (the Joyland) in 1910
  3. profiles every known movie venue operating in the city from 1897 to 1950
  4. recreates an illustrated song performed at the Joyland in 1910

Movie theater architecture in the South is documented through the plans for 23 theaters designed by Erle Stillwell. Five extensive lesson plans have been developed to encourage teachers to use Going to the Show as a resource for teaching social and cultural history.

Extensive historical commentaries by noted film historian, Robert C. Allen, supply context and background.

Going to the Show is made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina. Professor Allen's participation in the project was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, through its Digital Humanities Fellowship Program.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this web site do not necessarily reflect those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.